20 Tips for public speaking nerves


Public speaking anxiety is something which affects all of us to some extent. In fact, I believe that Mark Twain  was right when he said,“There are two types of speakers: those who are nervous and those who are liars.”

Barbra Streisand, the 72 year old singer and actress is one of the highest-selling female recording artist of all time and even she still gets nervous.

Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor was once terrified of speaking in public and says he used to avoid college classes where he had to get up in front of people.

Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Reese Witherspoon, and reportedly even Winston Churchill, JFK, Margaret Thatcher, Barbara Walters and Johnny Carson are believed to have had some anxiety about public communication at some point.

Even the late great, Elvis Presley once said, “I’ve never gotten over what they call stage fright. I go through it every show.”

If that doesn’t shock you then perhaps this will.

I believe that even Aristotle, Isaac Newton, and Charles Darwin all had stutters and were nervous speakers at one time in their lives.

The list of famous, successful, influential and powerful people is as surprising as it is long. If you have an important speech coming up  and are feeling a little nervous about it then you can take comfort knowing that you really are in the very best of company.

For many people it can be a very scary prospect but the good news is, however nervous you may feel it’s not life threatening. To my knowledge no one has ever died from either speaking in public or worrying about speaking in public.

Personally, I quite like the idea that so many  hugely talented and famous people have felt and still feel nervous when performing in some way. It tells me they are human, just like the rest of us and that if they can achieve so much despite feeling that way then there must be hope for all of us. It’s my belief that it really doesn’t matter who we are when we stand to speak in public we are somehow hard wired to feel some level of anxiety.

Here are 20 things you can do to manage your anxiety when presenting and speaking in public:

1.  Enlighten your audience, don’t  just inform them.

Make sure that you know a lot about what you will be speaking about and that you care about what you have to say even more. Don’t however craft your presentation with the assumption that just because you know what you know your audience will understand you. Your job is to make the complex simple to understand and to convert what some may perceive as boring into interesting. If you invest your time focusing on turning information into something your audience can relate to and remember you will be far less nervous.

2. Speak to your audience before you meet them

Make it about your audience, not about you. That means making it your business to  get to know as much as you possibly can about them and prepare thoroughly for them when presenting. If you already know them because they are colleagues, clients or your senior management pick up the phone and ask them how you can help them in your presentation, find out how much they already know and what they would like to know. Find out what is on their mind or may concern them about the topic and get some insight into how they would like to feel after your presentation.

If you don’t  know them try to get a few email addresses or contact numbers and go out of your way to get to ask them the same questions.

3. Do more than practice your presentation

Practicing your presentation the morning or day before you speak isn’t good enough and is likely to make you even more anxious. The works starts long before then. Set aside as much time as you can to practice the way you deliver your presentation and focus on the impact you are likely to have on your audience. Don’t just practice in front of your dog, find someone you trust who will give you honest feedback.

Practice three things.

Your content – in terms of understanding your key message and the supporting points.

Your verbal delivery – how you sound in terms of volume, pitch, pace, rhythm, emphasis, intonation, pauses, etc.

Your  physical delivery – how you look in terms of facial expressions, hand gestures, stance, eye contact, movement, etc.

4. Be in the room

Always get to the venue at least an hour early –  make sure everything works and then take as much time as you need just being present in the room before anyone else arrives. Spend 10 minutes standing where you will be speaking, notice the space, the temperature, the lighting, the air conditioning, external and internal noises, creaky floorboards,etc.  Simply immerse yourself fully in the room as much as you can before anyone else arrives

5.  Take a seat

Once you’ve arrived early and spent some time simply ‘being’ in the room spend a few moments sitting in some of the audience seats before they arrive to get to see what they see. If you are in a meeting or training room with just a few seats be sure to sit in each of them for a few moments. If you are speaking to a large audience in a conference room sit in a few at the front, back, middle, left and right.

6. Look your best

Dress for the occasion and make sure that you look great and feel great as far as your appearance is concerned. Don’t take any chances, find out well in advance how your audience have been asked to dress for the event and do your best to fit in with them but looking the very best you can. Don’t forget to polish your shoes, get your hair cut a few days before and if you are travelling and staying overnight to speak in the morning take a spare shirt or blouse just in case your breakfast gets the better of you.

7. Get moving

Exercise the evening before or morning just before you speak. Rather than spend the entire evening or morning of your big presentation worrying and playing all of those negative thoughts over and over again in your mind spend some time working out.  Go for a brisk walk, go to the gym, go for a swim or take a yoga or dance class. It may sound like the last thing you want to do but the exercise will leave you feeling much better.

8. Get some sleep

Be sure to get to bed early the night before your presentation, many people don’t sleep well the night before an important presentation but getting as much rest as you can will help you and take the edge off of your anxiety in the morning. Some presenters believe that drinking alcohol will help them sleep the evening before but don’t try that yourself it will leave you feeling worse. Avoid junk food the night before too.

9. Take time to calm your mind

Spend some time meditating or practicing self-hypnosis a few days before you speak  and be sure to do it on the day too.We all have a vast number or thoughts every day many of which are repetitive and negative ones.  Take the time to slow and calm many of those negative thoughts down by finding a practice that works for you and makes you feel good.

10. Start as you mean to continue

For many speakers, especially those who feel more anxious than others the first two minutes are the hardest. With that in mind it would be really helpful for you to practice your opening in such a way that you will not only feel comfortable with it but remember it. You shouldn’t try to memorize your entire presentation, just the first two minutes.

Practice your opening over and over until it becomes a part of you.

11. Breathe deeply

Don’t forget to breathe but don’t leave it until the last minute; establish a deep breathing relaxation practice well before your presentation and stick to it

Breathe in through your nose to the count of five counting slowly in your mind.

Breathe out through your mouth softly pursing your lips to the count of five.

Do five rounds of breathing in and out to a slow count of 5 and  focus on keeping your shoulders, stomach and legs relaxed. If your face or jaw feels tight then relax that too.

12. Please smile

Practice smiling and don’t forget to pause, breathe and smile before you say a word. Your smile tells both you and your audience that you can relax as everything will be fine. Smiling is contagious, not only do you get to feel better, your audience does too.  The act of smiling not only releases endorphins to make you feel good it makes you look more friendly, trustworthy and credible as well.

13.  Connecting is everything

Practice making eye contact with your audience even if it makes you uncomfortable. It’s the best way to connect with them emotionally and when you feel that connection yourself it feels great and will build your confidence. As far as public speaking and presenting is concerned there really is no more effective way of connecting with your audience than making eye contact with them; it really is the jewel in the crown of high impact presenting.

14. Please make them feel something

Switch your mindset, energy and focus to connecting emotionally with your audience and dismiss the idea of dumping information on them and trying to impress them or be perfect. As you focus your attention on making your audience feel something emotionally you will feel less anxious as you become far more interested in them than yourself.

15.  Watch your posture

The way you stand and position yourself while presenting is important to both you and your audience. A strong, balanced and relaxed posure will go a long way to helping you to feel far more confident as you speak. A good stance  will not only make you feel more alert and powerful on your feet but it will tell your audience that you are engaged and interested in them.

Stand tall and proud. Your physiology will play a huge part in how you feel.

16. Watch your language

In other words, stop telling yourself how nervous you are, what a terrible presenter you are or that you will forget what to say.

Tell yourself you know your content, you are prepared, it’s completely natural to feel nervous and that you have something to share which is of value to your audience.  Remind yourself that  your audience are on your side, you are the expert, they don’t want you to be perfect and they just want you to be yourself and connect with them.

17. See success

Visualize your audience smiling, looking engaged and thanking you afterwards for a great presentation.

Imagine your audience nodding in agreement listening intently to your presentation.

Don’t try to imagine your audience naked….

18. Be present

Before you speak switch your focus entirely on the present.

Listen to your favourite piece of music on headphones.

Practice saying a tongue twister.

Play a game on your mobile phone.

Focus on your breath.

Do something that keeps you in the moment

19. Have a clear message

Don’t try to memorize or read a script. Focus instead on your message, how you will support it and bring it to life.

Get to know your key points, stories, opening and closing by practicing out loud. Have notes prepared in case you need to refer to them but don’t hold them.

Think of your message in the form of a tweet, make it as clear and as simple and as compelling as possible. If you can’t express it with impact in a tweet do you really have a strong one.

20. Don’t try to be perfect

Remember your audience can’t see what you are feeling. They don’t want to see a slick polished speaker on a platform all they want is to hear another human being who has the courage to drop the ‘corporate spokesperson’ to connect with them and help them in some way.

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Image: Courtesy of flickr.com

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